Tag Archives: roles

The Blossoming Staff

Speak to the Children of Israel and take from them one staff for each father’s house…twelve staffs; each man’s name you shall inscribe on his staff. And the name of Aharon you shall inscribe on the staff of Levi…It shall be that man whom I shall choose — his staff will blossom.

Bamidbar/Numbers 17:17-18;20

Ramban (earlier, 17:6) explains that although the Jews were convinced that Aharon was chosen by Hashem to be the Kohen Gadol, they still questioned and protested the removal of the rights of the firstborn to do the avodah, which was given over to the entire tribe of Levi. Levi was split into two branches — Kohenim and Leviim, who together performed all the services of the Mikdash. The rest of the Jews wanted all the tribes to have at least some representation in the Beis HaMikdash. In answer to this request, Hashem showed them the miracle of Aharon’s staff. The staff belonged to the entire tribe of Levi, and its blossoming indicated that specifically the tribe of Levi had been chosen by Hashem to displace the firstborn of His servants.

There is possibly Rashi’s intent as well in verse 18, when he comments “for there shall be one staff.” That is, Hashem was saying: Although I divided them into two families — the family of Kohanim and the family of Leviim, nonetheless it is a single tribe.

-from “A Torah Thought for the Day,” p.32
Thursday’s commentary on Parashas Korach
A Daily Dose of Torah

This is sort of a part 2 of my blog post Are Messianic Gentiles Korach in that it addresses a similar theme: how roles can be different among diverse populations and yet all of the different groups are contained in a single body.

I wish there was an “almond staff test” for Jews and non-Jews in Messianic Judaism or the wider world of Hebrew Roots. I wish there was a visible, physical way to demonstrate to anyone who may doubt, that there is a fundamental difference between the duties and responsibilities of the Jewish people and those assigned to what I call “Messianic Gentiles,” or those non-Jews somehow associated with Messianic Judaism within the much wider body of the ekklesia of Messiah.

aaron's staffIt would make things so simple. See! There’s the Jewish staff sprouting blossoms. None of the Gentile staffs blossomed. So God is showing us all the He has assigned specific duties and responsibilities to the Jews that we Gentiles cannot share.

If you’re at all egalitarian, that may rub you the wrong way. After all, doesn’t this mean God isn’t playing fair with most of the human race? Isn’t He giving all the “cool stuff” to the Jews and saying the Gentiles can’t have any of it?

According to the midrash I quoted above, most of the Children of Israel, or at least the firstborn of the tribes, may have felt the same way. Why should the Kohanim and the Leviim have all the fun in the services in the Mikdash? Aren’t the firstborn of all the tribes just as worthy, just as much children of Hashem?

God settled the matter. God doesn’t have to be egalitarian. God is God. Deal with it.

Although we mentioned a difference between the gifts that the Kohanim receive and those of the Leviim (see “A Torah Thought for the Day”), there is a common denominator when it comes to their obligation to feel and express gratitude and appreciation to Hashem, Who graciously gave them these appointments and rewards.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.45
Friday’s commentary on Parashas Korach
A Daily Dose of Torah

But even as God differentiates, He also unites, providing a common denominator, so to speak, between the two diverse groups within the ekklesia of Messiah.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3:28-28 (NASB)

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace…

Ephesians 2:14-15

diversityJust as the Children of Israel are one people, they were also twelve different and unique tribes. Just as the tribe of Levi was one tribe, they were comprised of two different families, the Kohanim and the Leviim, and both of these groups had different rights and responsibilities in their service in the Mikdash. Even among the Leviim, there were clans that each had separate and non-transferable responsibilities and duties in the Mikdash.

Just as the ekkelesia of Messiah is one in faith and devotion, it is composed of two peoples, the Jewish people or Israel, and the Gentiles who have come to faith in Messiah, representing the nations.

Each group, although having a common denominator of being a “new man” metaphorically speaking, retains specific duties and responsibilities that cannot be transferred to the other group.

I know, it doesn’t follow the spirit of egalitarianism. It’s not “fair”.

But it is the Word of God.

The Mussar Thought for Friday states that we must respect those who have been privileged to achieve something special in their avodas Hashem that the rest of us have not, for this isn’t just an honor bestowed upon them, but a responsibility…one with consequences.

Someone who does not add to his service of Hashem when he is blessed with unique blessings, says Chovos HaLevavos, will eventually fail to fulfill even the basic obligations that are required of all [Jewish] people. In the end, he will throw off the yoke of Torah from himself completely.

I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts why I think it’s important to encourage greater Torah observance among the Jewish people, but here we see one of those reasons is that if the Jewish people do not perform the mitzvot, they are dismissing God’s blessings upon them and falling away from God and the Torah.

There are so many secular people who are ethnically and culturally Jewish but that’s about it.

jewish-assimilationEven among those Jews who are observant, that observance may only be partial. There are Jews who only attend Shabbat services sometimes and who, on other Sabbaths, will work. There are Jews who keep only “Leviticus 11 kosher” but who do not separate diary and meat. There are Jews who daven with a minyan on Shabbos but not during the rest of the week.

Their staff has blossomed indicating that Hashem has something special for them. But only they can pick up their own staff and walk on the path it illuminates for the Jews. It’s their staff, not ours. Even if some don’t pick it up, that doesn’t mean we Gentiles get to.

The firstborns among the Israelites do not serve in the Mikdash. The Leviim and even the other Kohanim do not enter the most Holy of Holy places on Yom Kippur, only the Kohen Gadol.

And the Gentiles do not observe the Torah mitzvot in the manner assigned only to the Jewish people.

That staff belongs to them, not us.

Are Messianic Gentiles Korach?

Korach, the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehas, the son of Levi, separated himself.

Bamidbar/Numbers 16:1

This verse begins the passage that deals with the rebellion of Korach, who sought to overthrow Moshe and Aharon from their positions as leaders of the Jews. The verse stresses that Korach took himself apart — that is, he deliberately sought to develop machlokes, strife between the Jews and their leaders.

-from “A Torah Thought for the Day,” p.2
Sunday’s commentary on Torah Portion Korach
A Daily Dose of Torah

Over two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post called What Am I, Chopped Liver?, in which I attempted to illustrate that non-Jews who are somehow associated with the Messianic Jewish movement are not an afterthought of God or a devalued population without a role in God’s redemptive plan for Israel and the nations simply because we’re not Jewish.

I could never have predicted what happened next. As I write this (Monday afternoon) that fifteen day old blog post has collected 191 comments and counting. Apparently, I struck a nerve, a really sensitive one.

I’ve written several posts since then, but none has gained the traction of “Chopped Liver,” which is just fine.

But then I started studying for the coming week’s Torah Portion Korach.

Rashi explains that Korach wished to make the point that there was no reason for Moshe and Aharon to be seen as greater than the rest of the Jews, for all of them had been spoken to by God at Sinai. thus their assuming leadership represented a selfish act of self-promotion…

…No matter how holy the Jews, they still needed leaders — and Hashem had ordained that those leaders were to be Moshe and Aharon. Sadly, Korach refused to see the obvious answer, and came to his terrible end as a result.

ibid, pp.2-3

We need to look at Korach and his 250 followers in context. The failure of the ten spies had just occurred (see Shelah) and the Children of Israel, bewailing their fate, refused to enter the Land and conquer it. Instead, they begged for a new leader to guide them back to Egypt. Even the next morning when the people realized their error, it was too late. Hashem had already decreed that the current generation wander the desert for forty years, until the last one of them expired.

Not listening to Hashem again, the Israelites attempted to take the Land. Hashem was not with them and the local Canaanite armies easily routed Israel, sending her packing, so to speak.

From Korach’s point of view, this might all seem to be the fault of Moses and Aaron. Midrash states that Korach and his companions believed Moses had appointed himself and Aaron as leaders, and that their positions of authority did not come from Hashem. If Korach were right, then there was no absolute divine source that appointed Moses as the Leader and Prophet of Israel and he might be opposed, overthrown, and replaced. This was Korach’s intent.

Although Korach was dead wrong (literally as it turns out) and Hashem decreed his demise, I can’t think too harshly of Korach. Yes, he was misguided and confused, probably tortured by the humiliating defeat in Canaan, and the dreaded prospect of the Israelites spending the rest of their days wandering the desert of Sinai. But assuming he wasn’t just greedy for power, he probably thought he was doing the right thing, the only thing he could think of to save his people.

korach rebellionBut he lacked Moses’ perspective and his apprehension of the will of Hashem for Israel.

It is commonly thought that Korach’s sin was one of attempting to usurp the roles of Moses and Aaron and to make himself the leader and High Priest (a bit if hypocrisy if he really thought that all Israelites were complete equals).

But we “Messianic Gentiles” (or whatever you want to call us) are also trying to figure out our roles relative to Messianic Jews and within the context of Messianic Judaism. Can we Gentiles be compared to those involved in the Korach rebellion?

First of all, let’s understand how I’m using the term “Messianic Gentiles.” Why don’t I just call us “Christians?”

Well, in the most generic way of speaking, we are Christians. That is, anyone who follows Christ (Messiah) as a disciple can be called a Christian (and my Jewish wife calls me a Christian). I make the differentiation for two reasons.

The first is that, in modern times, there are a number of Jews who choose to follow the traditions of their Sages in how they observe the Torah, living like many, many other observant Jews all over the world…and yet they are also disciples of Yeshua, recognizing him as Moshiach and the coming Jewish King.

Calling them “Christians” would be a gross injustice because historically, Christianity has been directly opposed to Jews observing Torah, studying Talmud, gathering in synagogues on Shabbos, and honoring the traditions of the Sages.

The closest analog to modern Messianic Jews are the very early Jewish disciples of the Master we find in the Apostolic Scriptures, but we also have to remember that nearly two-thousand years of Judaism stand in between these two groups of Jews. And certainly by any comparison, those ancient and our modern Messianic Jews in no way resemble today’s Evangelical Christians.

The second reason is similar to the first. We Gentiles in Messiah, who associate ourselves with Messianic Judaism in terms of how we understand and study the Bible and the function of the New Covenant, are not opposed to Jews practicing Judaism in the manner of their forefathers. We have a different vision of the primacy of Israel in the current age and into the Messianic Era. We know that Yeshua is the center of God’s plan of redemption, that God’s redemption emanates from Yeshua to Israel, and only then, from Israel to the nations.

This understanding is only rarely found in any corner of mainstream Christianity, thus I refer to us as Messianic Gentiles to communicate the distinction, not to deliberately separate ourselves from the (much) larger ekklesia of Christ among the Gentiles, that is, the Christian Church.

So are we Messianic Gentiles guilty of the rebellion of Korach in seeking a role in Messianic Judaism?

Based on the initial criteria I cited at the top of this blog post, that Korach deliberately separated himself from his Israelite fellows in order to cause strife (at least according to Midrash), how can we say we have separated ourselves from Messianic Judaism if our intent is to join them, albeit as Gentiles and not Jews?

It seems more apparent that we’ve separated ourselves from the local church and from historical Christianity so it’s very likely if we are rebelling, it is against the Christian Church, not Messianic Judaism.

Mount SinaiBut what about the supposition I’m adapting from Korach, that we Gentiles are every bit as Holy to God as are the Jewish people, thus no role possessed by Jews should be denied us?

It’s difficult to make a direct comparison because Korach and his group were Levites and Israelites, so they had that in common with Moses and Aaron. We Gentiles don’t have tribe and ethnic identity in common with the Jews in Messianic Judaism. We can’t separate ourselves from something we never were in the first place.

That’s an important point because the Sinai Covenant, and for that matter the New Covenant, are both made exclusively with the Jewish people. The disciples from the nations aren’t named subjects to those covenants. It’s only by the mercy and grace of God that he has preordained “every knee will bow” and indeed, that Gentiles turning to Hashem en masse, is a rock-solid indication, based on scripture, that the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven into our world is imminent (but “imminent” in the timing of God, not necessary by the human calendar).

So if any Gentile were to claim equal rights to the Sinai and New Covenants as members and citizens of Israel, it would be the height of hubris, and indeed, pride and arrogance are things that Korach has been accused of throughout the ages. If any of we Messianic Gentiles made such a demand, we’d be on par with Korach, cut from the same cloth.

But that’s not what most of us are trying to do. We’re not claiming the Torah for our own. We are not calling Moses our Father and maybe not even our Teacher (apart from the veiled implications of Acts 15:21).

What we do want to know is, given our particular orientation as Gentiles standing on the foundation of the Jewish Bible, who are we, where do we belong, and what should we be doing?

Of course, as part of the exceptionally long dialogue on my aforementioned blog post and particularly my conversation with Rabbi Kinbar, our “place at the table” may have to be self-defined. The various leading organizations that can truly be termed “Messianic Judaism” have their hands far too full managing their own definition, identity, and role.

Korach disputed the validity of Moses and Aaron as God-assigned leaders of the Children of Israel. Are we Messianic Gentiles questioning the leadership of Jews in Messianic Judaism? Can there be a Judaism without Jews? If we non-Jews want to be part of Messianic Judaism, are the Jewish people our leaders and are we trying to “take over” Messianic Judaism from them?

Those are a lot of loaded questions.

If there are Messianic Jewish synagogues that are by and for Jews in Messiah only, then we don’t have a seat at that table and we don’t belong. If we don’t belong, they can hardly be our leaders.

If there are Messianic Jewish synagogues that welcome non-Jews as adjunct members or resident visitors and if those synagogues are led by a majority Jewish board of directors, then the board are our leaders.

synagogueThat gets a little complicated since, for instance, the local combined Reform/Conservative shul in my corner of Idaho has both Jews and Gentiles on the board, although, of course, the Rabbi is Jewish.

In a comment made by Rabbi Carl Kinbar recently:

At the same time, MJ leaders share the responsibility. It doesn’t take long for them to figure out that few congregations made up preponderantly of Messianic Jews will grow large enough to support their leader full-time.

Virtually all Messianic congregations where individuals (Jew or Gentile) simply walk in the door and stay, are largely (sometimes almost completely) Gentile in make-up. This is especially true of congregations in areas where there are few Jews to begin with. Jewish practices are usually, or perhaps inevitably, reconfigured to the point of being somewhat unrecognizable. Most MJs who take their Judaism seriously feel quite alienated in that kind of environment. They also feel the need to guard themselves lest they speak or act “too Jewish” and thus offend the Gentiles (and some other Jews, too). As a traveling speaker, I have experienced enough Messianic congregations to know what I’m talking about.

That said, no congregation that walls itself in can be spiritually healthy. Congregations that have a distinct vision must have a strong and persistent determination to maintain living relationships with those who have a different vision, theology, or idea of congregational fabric.

P.S., I also believe that it is not viable, in the long term, for largely MG congregations to restrict leadership positions to Jews even when there are equally or more qualified MGs. It will not work sociologically or psychologically. A large percentage of MG children who mature in that kind of environment will leave as soon as they can. (emph. mine)

I can only imagine the matter of leadership is managed on a community-by-community basis. Thus the question of who leads and who follows is highly variable depending on whatever congregation you are attending. Synagogues with a majority non-Jewish membership will likely have a significant Gentile presence on the board, while Messianic Jewish shuls made up of a majority of Jews with only a few Gentiles (non-Jewish spouses of Jewish members perhaps) might have few to no Gentiles on the board and most certainly a Jewish person in the role of Rabbi.

In any congregation, there has to be a method of leadership whereby the members feel they are represented by such leadership. In many churches and synagogues, board members are elected by popular vote, and it is the board that hires the Pastor or Rabbi, who then is an employee of the institution and who can even be fired by the board if necessary (or their contract can simply not be renewed once it becomes due).

I’ve been in a congregation, a very organizationally unsophisticated one, where there were multiple attempts, some successful, to lead a hostile takeover, a sort of bloodless coup, either deposing the previous leader out of hand or causing a split in the group.

This is not uncommon among small but growing Hebrew Roots congregations, but it’s also been known to happen in full-fledged Christian churches (I have no idea if splits happen in mainstream Jewish synagogues since I have no direct experience).

It’s always ugly and never serves to sanctify the Name of God.

messianic judaism for the nationsSo are we Messianic Gentiles rebels with or without a cause?

I would say no. Not if we aren’t intending to take control of something that isn’t ours, that is, the covenant inheritance of the Jewish people. We have a right to seek out our own identity and role as long as the identity and role we desire doesn’t already belong to another group.

I think this is why some within Messianic Judaism would rather the Gentiles all stay in the Church, because it solves this pesky problem by using the already existing identity for Gentile believers as Christians within the Church and Jewish disciples as Jews within Judaism.

But not all Jews in Messiah agree, and as far as my experience goes, most Messianic Jewish groups in the United States have a large if not a majority Gentile population.

So I suppose as long as we Messianic Gentiles aren’t plotting to overtly or covertly take over whatever Messianic congregations we are attending, then we aren’t rebels. Of course, any group in a congregation that attempts a takeover of said-congregation outside of the formal rules would be considered rebels, regardless of the ethnic make up of the house of worship.

So if we’re not taking over Jewish synagogues and we’re not claiming the Torah and Israel to be who we are equally along with the Jews, then no, we aren’t rebels, usurpers, or thieves. We are just pilgrims on a trail, traveling a path, searching for who we are in Hashem and in Messiah.

We may never find out who we are in Messianic Judaism or in direct relation with Messianic Jews. But as I wrote just recently, we have every likelihood of discovering who we are in Messiah, and then helping and supporting Jewish Torah observance and community in anticipation of the return of Messiah and the establishment of his Kingdom in Israel and among us all.

What God Expects of the Jew and Also the Gentile

R’ Moshe Feinstein (in his Darash Moshe) explains that greatness is not defined by a person’s accomplishments, but rather by the person’s success in fulfilling the tasks for which Hashem equipped him and sent him to this world. Every person enters the world with unique abilities and a specific set of tasks to accomplish. Some are given tremendous ability, and are expected to achieve a great deal, while others are endowed with lesser abilities, and correspondingly, smaller tasks. But every person’s job is identical — use the skills you have been given to the utmost, to accomplish as much as you can.

-from “A Torah Thought for the Day,” p.75
Tuesday’s commentary on Parashas Va’eira
A Daily Dose of Torah

From a rationalist’s point of view it does not seem plausible to assume that the infinite, supreme Being is concerned with my putting on Tefillin every day. It is, indeed strange to believe that God should care whether a particular individual will eat leavened or unleavened bread during a particular season of the year. However, it is that paradox, namely, that the infinite God is intimately concerned with finite man and his finite deeds; that nothing is trite or irrelevant in the eyes of God, which is the very essence of the prophetic faith.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
from “Does God Require Anything of Man?” p.102
Man’s Quest for God

You may not think the two quotes just above have much to do with one another, but bear with me. The former is addressing how each human being is placed on earth to fulfill his or her specific potential understanding that we all have different potentials, and the latter is discussing, not generally human response to God, but a Jew’s response to Hashem through performance of the mitzvot.

There are many problems which we encounter in our reflections on the issue of Jewish observance. I would like to discuss briefly several of these problems, namely, the relation of observance to our understanding of the will of God; the meaning of observance to man; the regularity of worship; inwardness and the essence of religion; the relevance of the external deeds.

“To Obey or to Play with the Will of God.” p.102

Is Heschel using “man” and “Jewish” as interchangeable terms, or can we infer that he means that all human beings are responsible for obeying God, and then drawing out Jewish observance as distinct from God’s expectations for the rest of us?

I doubt Heschel meant to include that meaning into his writing but I’m going to “force” the issue based on my particular perspective.

You see, not only do I believe that each individual human being was placed here in life for a purpose that has been assigned to us by God, but I believe that God has placed the Jewish people and the Gentile nations here to fulfill specific purposes depending on which corporate body we are born into (aside from some Gentiles converting to Judaism).

praying_jewIn other words, there are specific tasks God placed Jewish people here to perform, and we Gentiles have specific tasks we also are here to perform, all in the service of God.

But those Jewish and Gentile tasks aren’t necessarily the same (though there’s probably some overlap).

I know that will ruffle a few feathers out there, but I’ve said this often enough and in so many different ways, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone by now.

As for the “equality” of women in Torah, a great deal depends on what you think “equality” means. In Torah, it does not mean that every member of the community is authorized to perform the identically same roles and tasks. Leviim may not perform some tasks reserved for Cohanim. Other Jews who are not in these categories may not perform the tasks reserved for priestly categories (with some rare and constrained exceptions). Men may not bear children nor are they exempt from time-critical tasks required of them (the men, not the children [:)]). Women may not perform certain tasks required specifically of men. Children are constrained from performing adult tasks and are not to be relied upon to perform adult responsibilities (though their training will include learning by doing, emulating such tasks). None of these categories are less to be valued because of what they may not do; and each is to be highly valued for what they *are* given to do. They are all equally valuable and honorable; but they are not identical in their assignments nor may they trade off their specific responsibilities, though some tasks may be shared by more than one of these categories.

-from a comment made by “ProclaimLiberty”
on my blog post Jews Defining Their Own Relationship With God And The Torah

While the conversation was about male and female equality of roles within Jewish religious and communal space, I chose to expand the concept to include Jewish and Gentile roles within that same space and particularly within Messianic Judaism.

Individuals are granted potentials to fulfill and so are people groups, namely Jewish and Gentile. After all, the Torah was given to Israel at Sinai, not all of the human beings living on the Earth. So if there were a Gentile “mixed multitude” also standing at Sinai saying as one man, “all that you have said we will do” (Exodus 19:8; 24:3), those from outside Israel either assimilated into the tribes, losing their Gentile heritage forever, or they left without so much as a “by your leave” to return to the rest of the nations, probably the lands from which they came.

But what about the rest of us? I mentioned that I thought the nations had specific tasks hard-coded into our potential as well. I suppose I could start with Genesis 9 which is the basis for what in Judaism is referred to as The Seven Laws of Noah, but I can go further than that.

“Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:19-21 (NASB)

But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”

Acts 21:25

It would seem, at least from my point of view, that the Bible presupposes a distinction in the duties human beings have to God depending on whether or not you’re Jewish.

Yet we all wholeheartedly accept Micah’s words: “He has showed you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). If we believe that there is something which God requires of man, then what is our belief if not faith in the will of God, certainty of knowing what His will demands of us?

“Does God Require Anything of Man,” p.103

Toby Janicki
Toby Janicki

But from a “Messianic Gentile’s” perspective, what is the “certainty of knowing what His will demands of us?” The overly simplistic answer some have selected is that “one size fits all.” In other words, there are 613 commandments that Jews are obligated to perform (though many of them are in abeyance since we are without a Temple, a Levitical Priesthood, and a Sanhedrin in Israel), and God has only one standard of piety and righteousness for the whole human race, that is, the aforementioned 613 commandments, the Torah.

But if we accept that, then we must accept that God first chose Israel to be a light to the nations, then at some point, “unchose” her, and instead, chose all followers of Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMashiach). Except that’s exactly what the Christian Church believes. Christians believe that God “unchose” Israel and the Torah and then chose “the Church,” the worldwide body of believers in Jesus. Hebrew Roots generally (but not universally) believes that (again, please bear with me) God “unchose” Israel and then chose all followers of Messiah Yeshua and applied the Torah to his latter selection in the same manner as He did with His former selection (and as I’ve said before, I don’t for a split second believe that Gentile disciples actually become “non-Jewish Israel”).

It is so difficult from a western egalitarian mindset to imagine that God would be so “unfair” as to have different standards and different expectations for different people groups. And yet, He is God and His will be done.

Heschel calls observing the mitzvot “the Jewish way of life,” (p.105) and he takes Christian theology and specifically the writings of the Apostle Paul to task for emphasizing that a man is justified by faith apart from the Law (p.108 citing Romans 3:28), which he doesn’t consider to be a particularly Jewish attitude.

The highest peak of spiritual living is not necessarily reached in rare moments of ecstasy; the highest peak lies wherever we are and may be ascended in a common deed. There can be as sublime a holiness in fulfilling a friendship, in observing dietary laws, day by day, as in uttering a prayer on the Day of Atonement.

“There is No Exterritoriality,” p.111

I agree, however Heschel seems to have missed this:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

James 2:14-16

Of course James (Ya’akov or Jacob), the head of the Council of Apostles and Elders and brother to the Master was (and is) also Jewish so it stands to reason that he and Heschel might have some common insights on a Jewish response to God.

One of the questions I am asked when I bring up this subject is what specifically does God expect of the Gentile in Messiah? I’ve tried to answer that question on multiple occasions over the past several years, most recently in The Duty of Messianic Gentiles and Christians to the Jews, Messianic Judaism for the Rest of Us and Gentiles Studying Torah for the Sake of Doing. But in reading Heschel another detail came to mind.

While not prescribing a diet — vegetarian or otherwise — or demanding abstinence from narcotics or stimulants, Judaism is very much concerned with what and how a person ought to eat. A sacred discipline for the body is as important as bodily strength.

-Heschel, pp.111-12

So God isn’t concerned about what a Gentile ought to eat?

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.

1 Timothy 5:23

The Kosher laws aren’t exclusively a list of “health foods” and in fact, some of the dietary requirements God has for the Jewish people defy logic, but let’s say God does care what we eat (he cares about everything we do, but I’ll use this as an example). Since the Jewish people, God’s nation Israel, has been called out forever from the rest of the nations, which includes the people of the nations who have come to faith in Yeshua, His list of expectations maps to what he has “wired” into them as a set of “potentials”. That goes to every little detail in life, as Heschel alluded to above, including food.

Now let’s say that God also has dietary expectations for the rest of us but that those requirements are less stringent. What if the specific examples we see Paul issuing in his epistles all come down to a general principle (or a few of them if you include the Jerusalem letter) of “eating right?” After all, Paul in his missives seems to be mainly concerned on matters of health, probably for the sake of the Gentile disciples honoring God by behavioral performance (praying, doing good deeds), which is better done if you aren’t sick.

I’m limiting this to food but there’s a lot of things we can do with our bodies to either sanctify or desecrate the Name of God.

kosher deliWhat I’m getting from all this is that God’s behavioral expectations of the Jewish people are much more specific and strict than His expectations for the rest of us because that’s the role He assigned them in this life. He assigned the Gentiles a more “generic” but no less important role and thus the expectations attached to our role are more “relaxed” as reflected in the quotes from Acts 15 and Acts 21.

This isn’t to say that a Gentile disciple can’t go “above and beyond” as a matter of personal conviction. After all, God allowed Jewish people to go “above and beyond” by taking a Nazarite Vow (Numbers 6). However, we are no more required to behave beyond our basic assigned requirements than a Israelite was required to undergo the Nazarite ritual (with notable exceptions such as Samson, Samuel, and John the Immerser who were all life-long Nazarim).

It’s not that the Jews have the Law and the Christians (all non-Jewish believers in Messiah) have Grace. We all have Law and we all have Grace. It’s just that the “Law” for the Gentile disciple isn’t as highly specific as it is for the Jew. There’s more flexibility built into our lives than there is for the Jewish people. God expects them to uphold a higher standard and they bear a greater responsibility. Being “chosen” isn’t always a walk in the park.

That’s not the end of the discussion and there are a lot more details involved, but for those, I’ll refer you to Review of the Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses and The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses Revisited.

I know this won’t satisfy some of you out there, but I don’t expect to be able to do so. This is just me refining my understanding of who I am as a Messianic Gentile and my duties to God as a disciple of the Master, may he come soon and in our day.

V’Zot HaBerachah: Hanging on a Peg

Sukkot In The Synagogue. Leopold Pilichowski (1869-1933). Oil On Canvas.“And this is to Yehudah, and he (Moshe) said, ‘Listen Almighty to the voice of Yehudah”

Deuteronomy 33:7

What does this verse refer to?

Rashi teaches us that Moshe is referring to the prayers of the kings of Yehudah: David, Asa, Yehoshofot and Chizkiyah.

The Midrash elaborates: There were four kings and each one asked the Almighty for different things. King David asked that he should be able to pursue his enemies and vanquish them. King Asa said, “I don’t have the ability to kill my enemies. Rather, I will pursue them and You Almighty should vanquish them.” King Yehoshofot stood up and said, “I don’t have the ability to vanquish my enemies or even to pursue them. Rather, I will pray and You Almighty should vanquish them.” Chizkiyah stood up and said, “I do not have the ability to vanquish, to pursue or to pray. Rather, I will stay home and sleep and You Almighty should vanquish my enemies.”

What is the meaning of not being able to pursue or pray? Why should anyone find this difficult since the Almighty will be involved? Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Katz used to explain: Regardless of what we ourselves do to be successful in any area, we must be aware that ultimately it is the Almighty Who causes the victory. Everything is dependent on His will, but we must do our share.

Dvar Torah based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot and Torah Portion V’Zot HaBerachah

But our share of what? In the above midrash, we are taught that regardless of how much or how little we are able to do in our lives, it is actually God who is the source of everything. There are some people who don’t like that idea, especially well accomplished people who have worked very hard to achieve a measure of success. Imagine a renowned classical pianist being told, “God was so good to you to have given you such talent,” and then hearing the pianist reply something like, “God, nothing. Where was God when I spent endless hours over the past forty years practicing and learning? Thanking God for my talent totally invalidates all of the hard work I did to achieve my current musical skill.”

From an atheist’s point of view, I can see how a Christian saying such a thing would be very insulting. It’s difficult to see the interplay between God’s sovereignty and His expectation of our participation. On the other hand, there’s also a very real danger that by giving God all the glory and then some (not that we shouldn’t give all the glory), we believe we have no responsibility to produce any of the effort God expects of us.

But as I said before, what effort is expected of us? Well, that depends.

… in order that his (the king’s) should not be lifted above his brethren, and that he should not deviate from the commandment to the right or to the left.

Deuteronomy 17:20

The Torah requires that even one who is in a position of leadership and prominence must retain his humility. Moses and David are outstanding examples of leaders who were extremely humble.

How can one remain humble when one exercises great authority and is the recipient of homage and adulation? “Simple,” said Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin. “If a king hangs his crown on a peg in the wall, would the peg boast that its extreme beauty drew the king’s attention to it?”

While an organized society needs leaders, and in Judaism there is a need for Kohanim and Levites who have special functions, an intelligent person should never allow a particular status to turn his head and make him think that he is better than others. Nor should men consider themselves superior to women because they have certain mitzvos from which women are exempt, and women should not think that they must attain equality by rejecting these exemptions and performing these mitzvos. There is no need to attain something that one already has. Men and women, Kohanim and Levites, leaders and kings – we are all “pegs in the wall” which the King uses for His purposes as He sees fit.

True, we should always strive for that which is above us, but this means striving for greater wisdom and spirituality, and not for positions of superiority. The latter are not at all “above” us; one peg may be higher on the wall than another, but that does not make it a better peg.

Today I shall…

…try to realize that I, like all other people in the world, am but an instrument of God, wherewith He wishes to achieve the Divine will.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 13”

hat-on-a-pegOur share or what is expected of us depends on which peg we are. No one, not even the King or the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) is more important than anyone else, but they still have special functions. The local village water carrier could not step in and fulfill the functions of either. For instance, in the days of the Temple, you wouldn’t see the King entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to offer atonement for the nation. Only the Kohen Gadol could do that. Not that the Priest was more important or more exalted than the King, only that his function was highly specialized.

What we do as servants of God’s Divine will depend on who we are. No one person is more important than another but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same, either.

Which brings me to this:

It is not with us, it is with Israel, and by accepting Israel’s Messiah we get to partake in Israel’s blessings. As an example, if my husband receives a family inheritance, then as his wife I would obviously partake in it too. However, it isn’t “MY” inheritance, and my receiving any benefit from HIS inheritance requires connection to him.

I don’t see God covenanting with Gentiles in the Bible, rather, we receive blessings of Israel as we draw near to them.

That was a comment made on one of my recent blog posts.

That revelation is actually very humbling. It hardly contributes to the feeling of significance of a Christian (or any non-Jewish believer) in relation to God. I have written on multiple occasions about how it is only through Israel that we have a doorway at all into any blessings from God. Without the covenant relationship that Israel, the Jewish people, have with God, we people of the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11-12), cannot be called by His Name. In fact, only three verses in the Bible create the link that allows anyone but the physical descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob to have a covenant relationship with God at all:

Now the Lord said to Abram,

“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3 (NASB)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but only that last sentence at the end of verse 3 creates the link. Paul’s commentary on this part of God’s covenant with Abraham brings forth some illumination:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

Galatians 3:16 (NASB)

You have to read that whole chapter in Galatians and then interpret it carefully to realize that Paul was not invalidating the Torah (Law) for Jewish people, but then again, he wasn’t applying the Abrahamic covenant (or any other covenant God made with Israel) as a total unit to his Gentile audience either. He was only applying the blessing from a single condition of the Abrahamic covenant to the non-Jewish believers, as recorded in a tiny slice of Genesis 12:1-3. Misinterpretation of this part of Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia has led to generations of Christians believing that they would physically have an inheritance in the Land of Israel, either replacing or at least crowding out the Jewish people.

Square Peg in a Round HoleOther misinterpretations have led many people in recent years to believe they inherit not only all of the blessings that result from God’s covenant with Abraham, but all of the covenants (and their blessings) God made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Children of Israel, effectively deleting any distinction between Gentile believers and Jewish people everywhere.

Just because the Jewish pegs aren’t more important or better loved by God than the Gentile pegs doesn’t mean that just anyone can take the crown from the King’s peg and put it on their own head. Only the King is King. Only the High Priest is the High Priest. Only the Jewish people are Jewish and bear the Jewish responsibilities assigned to them by God. Only the people of the nations who are called by God’s Name are who we are and only we have the special responsibility to encourage, support, and nurture Jewish return to God and to Torah in order to facilitate the return of Messiah.

I know that by just saying such a thing, I’ve become a square peg in the world of round holes. I don’t fit in either the Christian church by having such an opinion, nor do I reasonably fit in any traditionally Jewish realm. Even Messianic Judaism doesn’t know what to do with me because I go to church, and Hebrew Roots can’t tolerate me because of the idea of not being equal sharers in, or owners of, all blessings and all covenants across the board (but isn’t equal access to God’s love, mercy, grace, and salvation enough?).

Equality but not homogeneity is an extremely difficult concept to grasp, and it’s even more difficult to live out. Believe me, I know. I strive to live it out every day. There’s a horrible temptation to see myself not only as not equal to other believers (Jewish or Gentile), but not even significant to God.

But it becomes easier when I realize that it’s not human relationships, human priorities, or human judgments that are the key, but a relationship with God.

It is better to take refuge in the LORD Than to trust in man.

Psalm 118:8

Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever;
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.

Psalm 146:3-7

Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; For why should he be esteemed?

Isaiah 2:22

That said, there are people I admire and esteem for their holiness and their knowledge, but it is hardly wise to base one’s relationship with God on what some other human being says you should or shouldn’t do. Not that there aren’t good teachers and good books to help along the way. But the buck does not stop with such good teachers and good books, and it most assuredly doesn’t stop with most of the silliness we find in most of the religious blogosphere.

Recently, Rabbi Carl Kinbar said to me:

You asked, “But if God is our teacher and perhaps ultimately, our only teacher, where can we go to learn from Him without having to endure endless layers of human filters?” Our Teacher has placed us in complex relationships with these “human filters” who sometimes have to be “endured” (as they have to endure us) but at other times inspire us (as we hope to inspire them. Not to mention our traditions, which are also marked by joy and pain.

Hopefully, we also experience those very rare moments of utter love and holiness with God himself – moments of simplicity that do not transcend life but help direct us in the midst of its complexities and uncertainties.

love-in-lights…those very rare moments of utter love and holiness with God himself… As Rabbi Kinbar said, we have been placed as pegs among many other pegs to sometimes “endure” each other, but also, we pegs have been placed among each other to inspire each other. True, we also sometimes discourage each other, which is often the place from which I write. That is why, as much as we pegs need to be with each other, whether I am a square peg or a round one, it is not only important, but it is vital that I seek out, that we all seek out, those very rare moments of utter love and holiness with God himself – moments of simplicity that do not transcend life but help direct us in the midst of its complexities and uncertainties.

Everything is dependent on His will, but we must do our share. Even understanding who we are and what “share” we must do can be terribly complex. For some people it may be easy, but for many others, it only seems that way, because uncertainty and dissonance is extremely uncomfortable. Saying, “God wants me to do this” (whether He really does or not) is a lot easier than saying (and feeling) “I’m not sure what God wants so I turn to Him in my uncertainty and let His will guide me, not my own.”

I’m glad we are in the days of Sukkot. What better place to be than sitting in my sukkah, looking dimly up at the sky and the clouds, listening to the fabric of the sukkah fluttering in the breeze, seeking a very rare moment of utter love and holiness with God himself.

Good Shabbos.

5 days.

The Equality Puzzle, Part 3

To be perfectly blunt: I must say the Christians have robbed the Jews! And perhaps what is worse is that this thievery has been encouraged by theologians, pastors, and even Sunday School teachers, where small children are taught to sing the song, “Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line.”

Every promise in Scripture in some way benefits Christians, but it is not all promised to Christians. Sometimes the thievery has been inadvertent and unintentional. It’s like thinking that the raincoat hanging in the office closet is yours for wearing home because of unexpected showers. Hopefully, you will discover the raincoat belongs to a fellow worker and you will restore it. It is not as if Christians do not have the greatest promise of God, which is 1 John 2:25: “And this is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.”

Moishe Rosen
from his Foreward to Barry Horner’s book
Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged

This is Part 3 of a four-part series. Go to Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already read them.

I know that Mr. Rosen was addressing concerns with the traditional Christian church and the effects of Christian supersessionism on the Jewish people, but given what I said in Part 2 of this series, he could just as easily have been addressing Christian “One Law” proponents. I know “thievery” seems like a strong term to apply to people who want nothing but to obey God and all of the Torah mitzvot, but from a Jewish point of view, (even a “Jews for Jesus” point of view in the case of the late Mr. Rosen) that’s how it looks.

But Rosen says something curious at the end of the above-quoted statement. He says, “It is not as if Christians do not have the greatest promise of God, which is 1 John 2:25: “And this is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.”

The greatest promise of God means that we Christians are the direct beneficiaries of the promise of eternal life. What more do we want of God but what He has already granted us by His bountiful grace and mercy?

However, as human beings, we have a tendency not only to want what we can’t have, but to believe that we’re being shortchanged if, for instance, “Moishe” has been given a unique gift or responsibility that was not granted to “Barry” as well.

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. –Romans 3:1-2 (ESV)

I agree, being a Jew, including a “Messianic Jew,” has many advantages in relation to God. But saying that, and getting back to Mr. Rosen for a moment, I believe there are many advantages to being a Gentile Christian as well.

In the “Messianic” world, there’s a sort of covert bit of jealousy going on, at least with some of the non-Jewish participants, because these Gentiles see the beauty and wonder of living a Jewish religious lifestyle and they desire to live that life as well, but without converting to Judaism. More conservative elements in Messianic Judaism are echoing Moishe Rosen’s words and crying “foul” when One Law Christians demand the right to be obligated to the full weight of performing the 613 mitzvot, including those behaviors that specifically point to Jewish covenant status and Jewish identity markers. Those Jews cry out, (again, echoing Rosen) “Hey, that’s my raincoat. Give it back,” and in response the “Jewish raincoat wearing” Gentiles retort, “It’s mine, now.” as if they’re still singing the old Sunday School song,Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line.”

I said clearly in Part 2 of this blog series that there is nothing preventing the Christian who finds meaning and beauty in the Torah from adopting many of the mitzvot in their worship lives. Please, you can joyously light the candles on Shabbos, pray the Shema, and daven facing toward Jerusalem. You can even feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, help a lame person cross a busy street, and give abundantly to charitable causes. All of these are Torah mitzvot and if performing these deeds brings your heart closer to God, who am I as one lone Christian to tell you that they are forbidden you?

Oh wait.

What did I say? What were those mitzvot again?

I’m trying to clean up something that has become terribly muddied and messed up in translation. In “hosing off” the muddled confusion, I have “discovered” (no, it’s no great secret) that a great deal of the Torah is stuff that Christians all over the world have been doing for uncounted centuries. You want to “obey Torah?” It’s not complicated in its essence. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love justice. Do mercy. Smile at a stranger. Hug a small child with a scraped knee. Honestly, where’s the mystery? How hard is it to obey God? It’s a no brainer.

If, in the middle of all that, you want to order Kosher meals on your next international flight, or wear a head covering to honor the God who is always above you, I don’t think there’s much of a problem. No one is locking you out of the Torah or keeping the God of Israel hidden in a room with a sign on the door that says, For Jews Only.”

D.T. LancasterBut I keep saying that Christians are not Jews and I also keep saying that there are great advantages to being a Christian. But what are those advantages, I mean besides eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord? If there are advantages to Jews that uniquely belong to Jews, can the same be said about Christians?

I should say at this point that even if, beyond having our sins forgiven, coming into a “right relationship with God,” and being granted eternal life, there are no other “special advantages” to confessing Christ and coming to faith in the Jewish Messiah, is it really our place to complain to God about it? Hasn’t He done enough for us? If he chooses to assign additional obligations to the Jew, including the Messianic Jew, that He does not apply to the Gentile Christian, isn’t that God’s right? Maybe we can apply one of the Master’s parables to our own situation by way of an answer.

And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” –Matthew 20-8-16 (ESV)

I know it seems as if I’m contradicting myself because the parable is actually about how God’s love, grace, and salvation are applied in equal measure regardless of what age a person is when they come to faith. That is, everyone, no matter who they are or how old they are, eight years or eighty, when they become disciples of the Master, receives the same gifts from God as equals. Couldn’t this also mean that the obligations of Torah should be distributed evenly to both Jew and Christian as equals?

But look at it another way. The workers who were hired early and worked longer received the same wages as the workers who were hired later and worked less…and the “early hires” were ungrateful and jealous, even though it’s the Master’s money and he can pay as he pleases.

It’s also God’s Torah and He can apply it as He pleases. Are we really going to “get in God’s face” and kvetch about it? Just how ungrateful and ungracious do we want to be?

So what advantage is there in being uniquely Gentile Christian? As Paul might say, “much in every way.”

Instead of attacking Christianity, Messianic Gentiles would do well to focus on what is good about Christianity. This is necessary for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that Messianic Gentiles, as stated above, are Christians. Just as important, though, is the impact this positive attitude will have on any effort to bring Christians to recognize the Jewish roots of their faith.

It isn’t difficult to find good things to say about Christianity. First, Christianity has brought billions of people to Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah and King of the Jews. This is a non-trivial accomplishment. Even some Jewish scholars have recognized the significance of this fact. In Hilkhot Melakhim 11:10–12, Maimonides credits Christianity with preparing the Gentile world for the arrival of King Messiah by spreading knowledge of the Bible far and wide. If even those who do not claim Yeshua as Messiah can affirm the good that has come from Christianity, certainly believers should be able to as well.

Second, Christianity has helped uncountable numbers of poor, hungry, destitute, abandoned people. Myriads of counselees—drug abusers and alcoholics, victims of abuse, troubled spouses—have benefited from a pastor’s biblical advice. From Carey and Wilberforce’s campaigns against satī in India to the modern phenomenon of “adopting” starving African children, Christians everywhere have expended their resources to help those less fortunate. Today, Christian orphanages in India take in abandoned children with nowhere else to turn, just as devout Christian George Müller did over a century ago in England.

Most of these people—the poor, the abandoned, the disenfranchised, and the abused—will never understand how Yeshua fulfilled the Passover. They may never taste matzah. They may never utter a single word of Hebrew or even be able to read the Bible in their own language. Yet they rely, just as we do, on the saving grace of God through Yeshua the Messiah.

-Boaz Michael
from an early manuscript of his forthcoming book
“Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile” (pp 50-51)

For nearly twenty centuries, the church has preserved the Gospels of Christ and the letters of Paul, James, Peter, and others, and that “good news” has brought countless millions of human beings into covenant relationship with God. How many people found faith who would have otherwise been hopelessly lost without the church? How many people have been given clothing, food, medicine, companionship, mercy, and kindness by Christians whose only motivation was to serve the Savior and to the will of God? I admit that many terrible things have been done in the name of Jesus, but that’s the fault of flawed and damaged human beings, not the will of the Creator of the Universe. When we actually do His will, it always is for the good.

But you might be saying right now, “So what? Haven’t Christians have always done that?”

I’ll answer that question and more in the Fourth and final part of this series.

Addendum: Derek Leman has written a blog post called Is MJ Guilty of Jewish Elitism? The theme is substantially similar to this series of “meditations” and I recommend that you stop by Derek’s blog and have a read.